Black history isn’t just about the history-makers and big social movements. They begin as everyday people whose day-to-day experiences, inner Black life, and Black joy—this especially!—are just as much a part of Black history. Without daily life and joy, the picture narrows solely on struggle and trauma, and comes off as incomplete. We need it all.
There is no other way to put it. The start of this year’s Pride Month was painful. We can’t stop thinking of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and of too many before and after them. Witnessing modern-day lynch mobs during a pandemic is soul-crushing. Do not be tempted to say the upheaval happening now is “unique” or “unprecedented.” Because it is not. The US has centuries of history inflicting violence and death on Black bodies. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his “The Other America” speech, “the riot is the language of the unheard.” And the US has not listened since the days of slavery and settler colonialism. So the protests and riots rage on.
Another legend gone. And more than a legend, she was a force! Novelist, editor, professor, and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison died on August 5 at age eighty-eight. Pick any book from her bibliography, and you will be mesmerized by her command of prose, her power to conjure up the ambience and lived-in feeling of Black communities and their heroines and heroes to the finest, vibrant detail. She was Black love, Black resilience, and Black brilliance personified. There won’t be another writer like her.
We are shocked and heartbroken. We learned of the sad news that our author, Rashod Ollison, passed away on October 17 from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He was forty-one. He graced our catalog with his coming-of-age memoir Soul Serenade: Rhythm, Blues, and Coming of Age Through Vinyl. In his singular, flavorful writing voice, he brought to life his story of growing up Black and gay in central Arkansas during the eighties and the nineties. Back when we asked him if he had an audience in mind for his memoir, he said he didn’t think anyone would want to read it.
By Rashod Ollison | As the shattered pieces of the marriage settled around her, Mama knelt at the altar of Aretha. She played Amazing Grace, the legend’s landmark 1972 gospel double LP, seemingly every waking hour during the turbulent years of the marriage, the only years I remember. The album often played on Sunday mornings as we got ready for church.
Black History Month is the time that connections need to be made between the ancestors of Black heritage and the living inheritors. As educator Christopher Emdin wrote on our blog, the stories of past battles should never be told as if they are over or conquered. The stories are alive and playing out today. The connections are more powerful when they’re grounded in the context of history. In the spirit of Emdin’s observations, we’re offering a list of recommending reading to bridge the past with the present.
By Rashod Ollison | When I realized I’d never jump in the sky and fly away like the mythical African slaves in that old folktale, which was also around the time I figured Michael Jackson would never come to the projects and take me away in a rocket limo, I begrudgingly accepted my sexuality. I was still a child, a precocious one, about eight or nine years old who lived inside his overactive and always vivid imagination. I didn’t know what “gay” really meant, but I gathered from the casual and mean-spirited homophobia at home and in the working-class neighborhoods we shuffled in and out of that being “that way” or a “faggot” was a sin and shame.
By Rashod OllisonIt didn’t surprise me to see him in the news. Back home in central Arkansas where I grew up in the 1980s and ’90s, Judge Wendell Griffen has long been a respected presence in the local press. But this week as he faces impeachment for a Good Friday protest against the death penalty, in which he lay strapped to a gurney in front of the Governor’s mansion, Griffen’s story has made national headlines. He was featured in a segment on Democracy Now! that aired on Monday, May 8.
By Rashod Ollison: It was February 1988, and I was in the fourth grade, the new kid at Fair Park Elementary in central Little Rock. I was nervous, of course, because I was the new kid. And nobody wants to be the new kid. But unlike previous classroom situations, I wasn’t the only black face in the place. There, in Mrs. Charlotte James’ orderly room, I was surrounded by kids who looked as though they could have been my cousins—black and brown faces staring back at me sans the entitled icy glares I usually got from white kids in Hot Springs. Also, Mrs. James was black, as stately and no-nonsense with her pearls and round glasses as the Baptist church mothers who silenced me with a stern look whenever I was disruptive in the Lord’s house. She was my first black teacher, and I was “so excited” like the Pointer Sisters.
It’s December, which means it’s time for our holiday sale! All this month, get 30% off every purchase on our website using code HOLIDAY30. This year, we’re donating 20% of all sales in December to the Water Protector Legal Collective, which provides legal support for water protection activities in resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Now, more than ever, these are titles will be timely and necessary as we transition to the new administration. Looking for a title, but don’t know where to begin? Get started with this list we put together of our bestsellers and highlights of 2016. Happy book hunting and Happy New Year!
By Rashod Ollison | Fresh-cut watermelon smelling like rain and ribs sizzling on a grill bring the music back. The songs complement the food and the weather and Technicolor the memories of when we were all just kids with nothing in our pockets but waxy penny candy. We thought we knew everything. We knew nothing. All that mattered was that my cousins and I in Arkansas—with our Jheri curls and short sets, scarred knees and Tabasco tongues—were all together and that Cousin Rodney’s boom box had fresh batteries.
By Rashod Ollison | Out of the thirteen events on my eleven-city tour in support of Soul Serenade: Rhythm, Blues & Coming of Age Through Vinyl, I was most nervous about the one that would take me back to where it all started. On February. 9, I returned to Little Rock, Arkansas, where I grew up, and to Pyramid Art, Books & Custom Framing, among the first places where I performed spoken word poetry as a teenager. Back then, in the early ’90s, the old location was downtown on Main Street. The new one, a sleeker, brighter and more expansive place, is over on Wright Avenue, in the heart of a historically black section of the city.
A Q&A with Rashod Ollison | Happy Publication Day to pop music critic and culture journalist Rashod Ollison and his memoir Soul Serenade: Rhythm, Blues & Coming of Age Through Vinyl! In Soul Serenade, Ollison tells his story of growing up gay in central Arkansas, searching for himself and his distant father, and how the consoling power of soul music guided him through the tough times. We caught up with Ollison before he geared up for his book tour, beginning today in Virginia Beach, VA, to ask him what writing the book meant for him and the inspiration that went into it. Check his event calendar to see his tour dates. And once you settle down with his book in your hands, put on his playlist featuring the songs that brought his memoir to life.